“If there’s no god, why should I believe in him?”
November 8, 2014 4:16 PM   Subscribe

The Norden is a Finnish TV series, taking Americans and introducing them to their profession within the Nordic countries. First, James Conway, retired Superintendent of Attica Correctional Facility in New York, visits four Nordic prisons and facilities. An excerpt, and the full episode with English subtitles.

The series is produced by the Finnish Broadcasting Company Yle.

In the next episode, pastor Marty McLain from Georgia visits the Nordic countries and asks people if they believe in God. Excerpt.
posted by Wordshore (70 comments total) 65 users marked this as a favorite
 
From the last link: the Missionary Church of Kopimism is a congregation of file sharers who believe that copying information is a sacred virtue. It is officially recognized by the Swedish Legal, Financial and Administrative Services Agency as a religious community. English version of their website, and previously on MetaFilter.
posted by Wordshore at 4:31 PM on November 8, 2014 [4 favorites]


Red-state-American-as-bewildered-time-traveller; hmmm…
posted by acb at 4:40 PM on November 8, 2014 [7 favorites]


"Wow!"
posted by kandinski at 4:57 PM on November 8, 2014 [1 favorite]


"Wow!"
O_O
Wow!
o_o
O_O
o_o
O_O
Wow.
o_o
O_O
posted by Flunkie at 5:03 PM on November 8, 2014 [1 favorite]


Is this all LOLUSA or is there anything that the Nordics might find useful from the Americans? Hey I could see FOX, History Channel or hell even NatGeo doing the same thing, with and without a laugh track so I'm not saying we're above that..
posted by drowsy at 5:14 PM on November 8, 2014 [4 favorites]


Kitos!
posted by vrakatar at 5:15 PM on November 8, 2014


Love Scandinavia. After visiting, it occurred to me that those countries essentially put into practice everything I believe. They're not perfect, but they may be my personal ideal. So where is the (US) conservative ideal state? Is there a country that takes everything they believe and puts it into practice? Is such a thing possible?
posted by scamper at 5:16 PM on November 8, 2014 [5 favorites]


A theocracy with no functioning central government. So I'm going to guess ISIS controlled areas.
posted by Ferreous at 5:19 PM on November 8, 2014 [35 favorites]


I also was thinking that it would make more sense for people from the country making the TV show to see their profession in other countries rather than to bring in outsiders (especially outsiders all from the same country -- why not change it up?).

I would totally watch a TV series where Canadians in all sorts of jobs went all over the world seeing how their job is done in different places.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 5:23 PM on November 8, 2014 [3 favorites]


Is this all LOLUSA
I've only watched the two linked excerpts, not the full episodes, but neither of them seemed at all "LOLUSA" to me. Perhaps Scandinavian LOLUSA humor goes over my simple American head, but it didn't even occur to me as a possibility.
posted by Flunkie at 5:24 PM on November 8, 2014 [1 favorite]


So where is the (US) conservative ideal state?

USA! USA! USA!

The US conservative ideal state is the much vaunted (but never existent) "real America", where the social structure is from Leave it to Beaver, the Economics are all Reaganomics, where WWII is the only lesson any American needs in Foreign Policy. It doesn't exist, and it never has existed. It can't exist outside of fictional nostalgia- like the biblical "Kingdom of God", it is simultaneously an impossible structure at odds with the facts of Earth, a dream to be worked towards, and an internal subjective knowledge carried in the heart of the True Believer.
posted by DGStieber at 5:28 PM on November 8, 2014 [51 favorites]


...or, more succinctly, Galt's Gulch.
posted by oneswellfoop at 5:34 PM on November 8, 2014 [2 favorites]


I can see LOL-USA as in: They're so stuck in their ideology that they don't see the benefits of a different system. And also the fact that the nordic people don't seem to be going into this with any sense that maybe they can learn something, too.

That said, I wish one of them had called that guy out on the ridiculous position that it's the prisoners' job to rehabilitate themselves and that it's not the prison's job.

Anyway, the guy says at the end that he wants to see in 5 years how many people have been stabbed, escaped, etc. According to Wikipedia, the prison has been open 4.5 years now. So anyone know how many stabbings and escape attempts there have been and how that compares to Attica?
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 5:34 PM on November 8, 2014


Is this all LOLUSA or is there anything that the Nordics might find useful from the Americans?

There is no discussion of the American prison system in the preview.

The Nords aren't visiting the US here. And while the Americans do a lot of things well, I don't think the rest of the world has much to learn from the prison system there.

But it's more the American at awe and dumbfounded by the conditions in the prison. That being said, I only saw the 6 minute preview.
posted by el io at 5:54 PM on November 8, 2014 [1 favorite]


You can tell it's bedtime in CET and EET, because no one has yet pointed out that "Scandinavian" and "Nordic" are not synonyms.

So I will. In fact, I just did. Right up there.
posted by elsietheeel at 5:56 PM on November 8, 2014 [6 favorites]


Just watched the excerpt. I'm sorry but that prison is absolute hell. DID YOU EVEN SEE THE TOTO POSTER ON THE WALL?!
posted by NoMich at 6:04 PM on November 8, 2014 [2 favorites]


Well, when you're in prison, you miss the rains down in AFFFRICAAAA.
posted by eriko at 6:14 PM on November 8, 2014 [16 favorites]


This doesn't seem like LOLUSA. It almost seems like a program to outline philosophical differences in governance, framed as a "who are we, as the Nordic countries?" piece. It's not like there weren't any points of agreement in the 'prisons' episode.

How else would you have such a program? I found it illuminating.
posted by eustatic at 6:18 PM on November 8, 2014 [3 favorites]


You can tell it's bedtime in CET and EET, because no one has yet pointed out that "Scandinavian" and "Nordic" are not synonyms.

Most people in the region don't really care; in practice, they're often used as synonyms, and what subset you're referring to is usually obvious from context anyway. A bit like America vs. USA.

I do find it a bit annoying that Google gets it wrong, though.
posted by effbot at 6:26 PM on November 8, 2014


As a "Nordic" transplanted to the US, I have pretty mixed feelings about this. Yes, it's quite entertaining, but it's also pretty egragious cultural stereotyping: I doubt it would be possible to broadcast if it depicted religious conservatives in just about any other country...

For example, living in the NYC bubble, I am quite aware that these types of USians exist in some parts of the country, but I don't really come across them in my everyday life. This country's diversity in terms of backgrounds, cultures, philosophies, ideologies and ways of life may even be a little difficult for many "Nordics" to grasp. In contrast, our countries are monocultures, and even with a relatively large influx of immigrants over recent decades, full "acceptance" into society comes with a pretty stringent prerequisite of cultural assimilation.

Yes, life in Sweden is a litttle easier / more comfortable in many ways. (This is because most Swedish people believe that the government should provide a certain range of services, and are willing to pay for a pretty efficient bureaucracy to provide them. This is just not the case in the US -- for example, the American prison boss even made it pretty clear that he would never get budget for creating this type of prison even if he would have wanted to.)

Life in Sweden can also be stifling. Good luck getting a job at your level of qualifications if you are not Swedish (or even worse -- not white). Good luck if you want to prioritize your career and not stay at home with your baby for 1yr+ (you will be judged). Good luck if you actually want to be religious (you will be viewed as ignorant/superstitious). Also, better not have any unusual habits (eating or otherwise), and make sure that your political opinions are mainstream.

(Not saying these problems don't exist here, but there is a clear difference in degree... )

Basically, social success is very much about conforming and fitting in (there are exceptions of course -- stereotyping here). If you're in prison, you probably did not fit in, so the job of the prison is ---obviously -- to take you back to conformity. If you conform, life will be mostly comfortable, orderly and stable (although perhaps a little boring).
posted by yonglin at 6:31 PM on November 8, 2014 [45 favorites]


For example, living in the NYC bubble, I am quite aware that these types of USians exist in some parts of the country

Which kinds of Americans - the guy who was superintendent of Attica, who worked for the New York State correctional system for decades? He's not all that unusual a representative, and he doesn't live in an America far away from New York City. The policies he implemented were set by the legislature and other government entities of people empowered in part by residents of NYC. Attica is neither the best nor the worst of our prisons.
posted by rtha at 6:49 PM on November 8, 2014 [5 favorites]


if they wanted a lolUSA, they could have picked Burl Cain of Angola
posted by eustatic at 6:51 PM on November 8, 2014 [4 favorites]


Just one question: What are the recidivism rates at the Finnish jails? Of course, the man from Attica uses the word 'liberal' to describe the prison so ... I guess he's poisoning the ye olde well there, isn't he?

To all of this, I just have to say that I want the tag line: 'If there’s no god, why should I believe in him?' on my tombstone.
posted by McMillan's Other Wife at 7:09 PM on November 8, 2014


Just one question: What are the recidivism rates at the Finnish jails?

Not specifically about Finnish numbers, but this article says Nordic prisons "yield recidivism rates one-half to one-third of those in the U.S. (20-30 percent versus 40-70 percent)."
posted by effbot at 7:16 PM on November 8, 2014 [4 favorites]


I just finished watching the prison episode and can't help but wonder if the retired superintendent of Attica feels any grief or sadness after having visited those Nordic prisons? Because I think that's what I'd feel—profound, terrible grief and thoughts of how my life might've been different had I spent it working within a different kind of system with different values.
posted by EXISTENZ IS PAUSED at 7:40 PM on November 8, 2014 [10 favorites]


This show looks awesome to me. Even though I was born and raised in the USA, I love to see americans challenged by a vastly different system. I cannot fathom how the warden or the preacher think. The warden seemed disgusted by what he saw in the prisons, and the preacher appeared to be utterly befuddled. Great stuff.

Please let me in, Norway! I promise, I'll be good.
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 8:44 PM on November 8, 2014


Good luck if you want to prioritize your career and not stay at home with your baby for 1yr+ (you will be judged). Good luck if you actually want to be religious (you will be viewed as ignorant/superstitious).

Um, sign me up? I know your actual point is larger than those particular examples but...
posted by atoxyl at 9:25 PM on November 8, 2014 [12 favorites]


Hmmm. Stereotypes. As it turns out, I personally know zero redneck creationist Jesus freaks here in the USA, I know lots of pro-same sex marriage Christians and have personally interacted with racist Norwegians in my travels. I like this show in concept, but it's walking a dangerous line -- start with your hypothesis and then find an American stooge who proves it. Infotainment!
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 10:53 PM on November 8, 2014 [6 favorites]


As it turns out, I personally know zero redneck creationist Jesus freaks here in the USA

You live in relatively large city, don't you?
posted by el io at 10:59 PM on November 8, 2014 [2 favorites]


he doesn't live in an America far away from New York City.

You know how I know you've never lived in NYC? Upstate may be geographically close but in many ways it's a world apart.
posted by Sangermaine at 12:54 AM on November 9, 2014 [11 favorites]


Just one question: What are the recidivism rates at the Finnish jails?

Halden is a Norwegian prison, and Norway has recidivism rates of 20%,the lowest of the nordic countries. However, while prison conditions in Norway are generally good, Halden is at the progressive extreme (as is Bastøy, for that matter, although it is for prisoners nearing the end of their sentences who have behaved well previously). It will be interesting to see how things go with Halden specifically.

For those that are interested, Bastøy features in this deleted segment from Michael Moore's sicko . Sorry if it features in the full episode above, I haven't had a chance to watch it.
posted by knapah at 1:51 AM on November 9, 2014


Man, I have heard enough New Yorkers sneering about how upstate isn't really NY to last me a whole lifetime. Maybe we could not do that in this thread. rtha was right - New York is not a huge state geographically. A person who travels from NYC to Attica does not have to travel far, relatively speaking. It isn't in Texas or anything. That is simply true, regardless of any deep cultural divides people may feel.

The preview video made my blood boil when the warden started getting huffy about how the prisoners weren't being prepared for outside employment by their musical instruments. It's not even that instruments are so important - though they are; it's that the pretense that American prisons prepare inmates for employment is so laughably painful that it hurts to contemplate it. It's just not true. The warden pretty much said as much, anyway - he doesn't believe prisoners brought any of their rights to privacy with them, so why should they get job training?
posted by koeselitz at 2:25 AM on November 9, 2014 [7 favorites]


the preacher appeared to be utterly befuddled

The best bit in that clip was his utter horror at the Danish government requiring churches to perform same sex marriages - the Danish vicars look quietly distressed by his homophobia, Reverend Madsen gently says 'God created love... to bring people together' and McLean is so shocked that his face just sort of stops working. It looks as if, for a split second, part of him wondered, 'Oh fucksticks, am I doing Christianity wrong?'

I really hope they get into that in more detail in the full episode, though the preview clip makes it look like the entire programme is the poor sod becoming confused and saddened over and over again.

Also: nice ruffs, Danish clergy!
posted by jack_mo at 2:46 AM on November 9, 2014 [12 favorites]


My mother is a stuaunchly conservative Christian and a Republican and I think that in truth, she and many people like her don't really have a solid picture for how things should be, just that they shouldn't be like things currently are. I had this conversation with her yesterday about health care where she really thought that the people trying to get the Affordable Care Act overturned were poor people who were mad they couldn't just go to the emergency room for everything anymore. What she wants is a world without a lot of things--homosexuality, abortion, taxes--but she doesn't have a picture of what should take the place of that.

I really wish that this was a US movement to introduce people to foreign alternatives, instead, because dear lord I think we could use it. If you personally don't run into a lot of viewpoints like this in your daily life, and you're in the US, I envy you greatly; they dominate local and state politics where I am and have a habit of also coming up at family dinners. I can't really get away from it.
posted by Sequence at 4:55 AM on November 9, 2014 [10 favorites]


The thing that really frustrated me here was that the Attica guy was so totally averse to everything he saw; his (for lack of a better word) vengeful mindset simply wouldn't let any of it in. He is simply about punishment. Rehabilitation hardly even gets any lip service. I understand some of that given his experience, but surely even he can understand that low expectations can be self- fulfilling, no?
posted by Benny Andajetz at 5:27 AM on November 9, 2014


I personally know zero redneck creationist Jesus freaks here in the USA

My point is, I'm a pretty mainstream guy in a big American city and evangelical conservative Christians are not at all a part of my daily experience. One might come away from this show making generalizations that are simply not true. Yeah, there are way way too many twisted hateful bible thumpers, here and elsewhere, but generalizations are bad.

Still, I'm intrigued by the show and plan on watching the full episodes.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 5:44 AM on November 9, 2014 [1 favorite]


Even as an atheist myself, it makes me wonder when I hear Europeans describe their societies as fundamentally atheist. I wonder how the large numbers of Muslim immigrants feel when they hear such statements. Are they not European then, despite having lived there for generations? Is it expected that with full assimilation they too will discard their religious beliefs?
posted by Pararrayos at 5:46 AM on November 9, 2014 [2 favorites]


The pastor - this pastor - doesn't come across as a bad person in some respects, or even an openly judgmental one. One of my not-so-good experiences of living in rural island communities was attending funerals where the minister would proclaim that everyone was going to hell, including the deceased. And other incidents, such as shoving literature telling islanders to "beware of witchcraft and necromancy" through letterboxes when another islander was planning a spiritualist service. Constantly judgmental at every opportunity; unlike the Georgia pastor who is given many opportunities to answer back, but doesn't seem to.

In this clip from The Norden, where he's questioned after attending a heavy metal mass in Finland, he's positively restrained, even when asked to be honest by the interviewer, (there's a sneaking suspicion he really enjoyed that particular mass but doesn't want to let on too much).
posted by Wordshore at 5:52 AM on November 9, 2014 [5 favorites]


I watched the excerpt from the episode featuring the preacher, and I wonder if that wasn't the first time in his life that the man was not in the majority group where he was. It looked to me as though he was often struggling with the idea that most people in Denmark just don't see the world the way he does, and that he's never had to deal with that situation before. I didn't see it as LOLAmericans, and if they had filmed a similar sequence in The Netherlands it would have probably been less polite, based on the Dutch friend I have.
posted by wintermind at 6:00 AM on November 9, 2014 [2 favorites]


Even as an atheist myself, it makes me wonder when I hear Europeans describe their societies as fundamentally atheist.

A society can be fundamentally atheist without being run by fundamentalist atheists (not that I'm convinced Europe is quite as atheist as it's often described in the US, but...).
posted by effbot at 6:10 AM on November 9, 2014 [2 favorites]


OP here, flagging up an error in the FPP. Have only just discovered this - that the series isn't just Americans in the Nordic countries, but people from elsewhere. A future episode, focusing what appears to be on work and leisure, transplants someone from Japan into a Nordic lifestyle.
posted by Wordshore at 6:32 AM on November 9, 2014 [1 favorite]


You know how I know you've never lived in NYC? Upstate may be geographically close but in many ways it's a world apart.

You miss my point, by miles. He isn't some "other" - he was appointed by people elected by people like you. His attitudes regarding how prisoners should be treated don't strike me as any different from those expressed by the people who run Rikers.
posted by rtha at 6:42 AM on November 9, 2014 [1 favorite]


> If there’s no god, why should I believe in him?

How to grass and trees become enlightened? Same answer.
posted by jfuller at 6:47 AM on November 9, 2014


I think it is interesting that merely the idea of a society functioning how many Nordic nations have for decades is anathema to many fellow United States residents. I'm a natural citizen and when I see things like this I'm left to wonder, "Would I be more attached to my nation if it functioned more closely to this?".

This post made me think of a reddit post I'd read earlier today. I don't agree with the turning points the OP makes note of, but as a young person I can't help but feeling a certain solidarity with the sentiment.

It seems somewhere along the line this crazy train went off the rails -- as a young person I'm faced with the choice of forever working dead-end jobs or taking the bet that my mental, emotional and physical health can stand the pressure of working while going to school full time AND that I'll curtly find a job relevant to what I'd studied.

Maybe I have a self-confidence issue, but I sorely wish I had any confidence that I have high chances of success. I wish we had the social-support contract that many other nations have; it seems like a nation like ours (The United States) could do it. It'd certainly feel less like a no-win scenario.
posted by ulteriormodem at 6:55 AM on November 9, 2014 [3 favorites]


New York is not a huge state geographically. A person who travels from NYC to Attica does not have to travel far, relatively speaking.

Derail, but Attica is farther from NYC than DC is, and by a substantial margin. It's about as far from NYC as Richmond, VA. So, yah, New York is actually a fairly large state if you're going west to Buffalo-ish or north to Plattsburgh and beyond.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:13 AM on November 9, 2014 [5 favorites]


Yeah, to put it in European geographic terms: It's further than Amsterdam is from Paris.
posted by I-baLL at 8:01 AM on November 9, 2014 [4 favorites]


Fucking unreal.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:10 AM on November 9, 2014


This whole LOLUSA thing is a xenophobic derail, the kind of thing introduced whenever the US is shown in a less than wonderful light ("how dare foreigners not admire the USA?"). It is pathetic it was introduced into the thread and shame on some of you for falling for it.
posted by epo at 9:53 AM on November 9, 2014 [6 favorites]


I live in Albuquerque, and it's about the same distance from my house to Denver as it is from NYC to Attica - I do that drive all the time, and relatively speaking, compared to a drive to California or Illinois for instance, it's not very far. Also, to put it in European terms, that's only half the distance between Madrid and Barcelona. I guess there are just different frameworks of scale.
posted by koeselitz at 10:33 AM on November 9, 2014 [1 favorite]


"...I personally know zero redneck creationist Jesus freaks here in the USA..."

I, too, grew up in, and spent most of my life in cities - Chicago, Austin, Boston, San Francisco. Then I took a job that took me all over the country, to many, many small towns in the South and the North of the US. It was quite an eye-opener for me!
I now live in the south, in a small town in NC, (three-bedroom house $800 mo).
Outside of cities, most of the US is made up of, from the not terribly educated to the profoundly ignorant, religious, Fox News-believing, Republican-voting people, with very strange ideas and beliefs, (FEMA camps, and the like). Most! It's a different world outside the castle walls, and these people are the majority. Big cities in the South are full of them, too.
So, it's not like the show's producers swooped down and picked out the most embarrassing finds. These people are representative. I wish more average Americans were seeing this show. Most Americans are completely ignorant of what goes on, and how people live, in the rest of the World, and it's this ignorance that's makes them susceptible to demagoguery.
posted by sudon't at 10:43 AM on November 9, 2014 [11 favorites]


It's a different world outside the castle walls, and these people are the majority.

If you mean rural people, they're not. Most Americans live in metro areas of more than 1 million people. You couldn't see the breadth of conservative victories in the US without lots and lots and lots of conservative urbanites and suburbanites in addition to rural folk.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:56 AM on November 9, 2014 [2 favorites]


this article says Nordic prisons "yield recidivism rates one-half to one-third of those in the U.S. (20-30 percent versus 40-70 percent)."

And that's a sane measure of success. But, in my experience, a majority of Americans view prison as a place you go to suffer for your crimes. As much of a hell as the law will allow. Not to be rehabilitated or learn a skill but to be punished. It's about revenge, deprivation, and it's supposed to be so awful that it's a deterrent to crime. If the crime is awful enough, your lose your life for it.

IMO that's the Old Testament at work. After Reagan, we don't hear the word 'Jesus' in the media much. And increasingly we've made prisons into an industry.
posted by Twang at 11:06 AM on November 9, 2014 [3 favorites]


Twang, a good part of that, IMO, is that I regularly encounter Americans who believe that crime is continuing to get worse every year, when it's actually the lowest it's been in decades. (That said, not every state has a heavy investment in privatized prisons, and yet the attitude seems to be nearly universal.)
posted by dhartung at 11:18 AM on November 9, 2014 [2 favorites]


The Americans' perspective seemed much more authoritarian than the "Nordic" perspective. Both the American men tended to emphasize obedience, and how vital it was for safety/survival (talking about the dishware in the prison, or the Lake of Fire), and how to force people to be obedient. Nobody in the host countries seemed to at all consider obedience to be a priority, which I think is interesting considering the comment above that conformity is valued extremely highly in Nordic countries (which imo it's not especially in the US).
posted by rue72 at 1:32 PM on November 9, 2014 [4 favorites]


it would make more sense for people from the country making the TV show to see their profession in other countries
The beeb has a series, Toughest Place to be a.. that is about this. Emphasis is on developed country ---> developing country. Midwife, fisherman, taxi driver etc.
posted by glasseyes at 2:56 PM on November 9, 2014 [2 favorites]


Rue72: The Nordic countries are usually considered more collectivist than the USA, or even southern Europe. (E.g the old Millgram conformity studies)

Collectivism doesn't require obedience of authority; it is more a case of consensus is really important. An extreme example would be how wages are negotiated here in Norway - most workers are members of unions, the largest umbrella organisation (LO) has 850 000 members, which is a lot in a country of 5 million people. Every spring they negotiate wages for all their members with the corresponding union of employers (NHO). A small group of professionals in the government acts as a negotiator between the two parts, and the resulting agreement is put to a vote where all the members of the unions are supposed to vote, and people are expected to follow the result of the vote. Voting, strikes, lockouts, forced negotiations etc. is all codified by law.

It is true that you can be judged on things like "not taking full maternity/paternity leave", not keeping in shape, or odd political opinions, but all people are guilty of judging people who are "different", however that might represent. What some people react to is that the government here makes laws which might limit people's right to do "unhealthy things", usually in the name of efficiency or public health. An example would be a co-worker at one of my employers who was quite angry about a new law punishing companies for employees who didn't take four weeks or more of vacation. In her view this was "Stalinist". Another example would be how a minister from our conservative party (republicans) decided that 40% of the boards of public companies should be staffed by women.

Required caveat: Please note that there are no value judgement about what kind of society is better or worse, most "natural" or most efficient in the above.
posted by Baron Humbert von Gikkingen at 3:10 PM on November 9, 2014 [2 favorites]


This whole LOLUSA thing is a xenophobic derail, the kind of thing introduced whenever the US is shown in a less than wonderful light ("how dare foreigners not admire the USA?").

I'm one of the people who said I could see a LOLUSA angle in that. I'm not American and I frequently don't see the US in a wonderful light. What jumped out at me wasn't that they don't see the US in a wonderful light. It would be very hard to see the US prison system in such a light, even for a hard core my-country-right-or-wrong style patriot, I would think.

What seemed a little LOLUSA to me was that it seemed like the whole point of bringing that prison guard out there was to make that point "We are enlightened and do things the best way and that American doesn't see how enlightened and right-thinking we are and doesn't do things our way or even WANT to do things our way. How unenlightened of them!" It was just a way to pat their own countries on the back for their (admittedly, in my view) superior system.

A non LOLUSA/LOLForeigner version would have brought in people from countries that were different but still sort of consistent in their values. I bet the French have a less crazy prison system than the Americans, why not bring in a French prison guard? That might be someone who does things differently but doesn't necessarily do everything in a way they would consider worse. By bringing in someone like that, they leave themselves open to the possibility that the visitor says "Well, we wouldn't do it that way, we would do x because [reason/explanation consistent with nordic values]" and thus they might think about new ways of doing things, learn something, and have a reciprocal learning experience. Instead, it just seems to be touring the guy around and saying "look how great we are!" and shaking their heads in pity when he doesn't see it, without any openness to his ideas.

Of course they were never going to be open to the idea of making changes towards an American style prison, so maybe they shouldn't have brought in an American, but someone they actually might be willing to listen to/learn from.

In summary, I don't think it's LOLUSA because the US looks bad, but because they deliberately brought someone in that would create a narrative where they pat themselves on the back and without any openness at all to another view. It's ok to have views that you're not open to, but flying them in to demonstrate and display your non-openness seems a little odd.

I did enjoy this more, but I could imagine a more interesting and fruitful setup.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 4:40 PM on November 9, 2014 [7 favorites]


So I grew up in rural northern New York state, in a county where people tended to vote for Republicans. It seems to have gone Democratic recently, which is interesting, but there are still plenty of counties that will vote for a Republican. I also lived in NYC for a few years. I would say that the rest of the state is generally fairly moderate in its politics, with a few relatively conservative counties and some liberal-leaning ones, but overall it's not nearly as liberal as NYC is. There *is* a difference. That said, western New York is certainly not as conservative as many other parts of the country, and so I would expect Attica to be a reasonable data point across all U.S. prisons.
posted by A dead Quaker at 6:53 PM on November 9, 2014 [1 favorite]


Yeah, to put it in European geographic terms: It's further than Amsterdam is from Paris.

But less than the distance between Paris and Marseille.
posted by zeripath at 1:01 AM on November 10, 2014


It's also, in Nordic terms, less time driving than the trip from Bergen to Lillehammer. Which is about 180 miles as the crow flies.

Terrain matters, too.
posted by Zalzidrax at 9:55 AM on November 10, 2014


So I've only watched the prison one, and what stymies me is that the Attica dude can be all 'ur doing it rong' with his words, his tone, the look on his face (other than with the Swedish dude discussing his 2004 escapee tragedy, at which time Mister Attica's face was full of sympathetic bro-love) - when the stats are so clearly against him (recidivism and precentage of population incarcerated). It would be one thing if his argument was 'We have very different cultures, and while I appreciate that this works for you, this would not translate to the US at all effectively because of reasons'. But he seemed to be pretty clearly saying 'you people are a tragedy waiting to happen, and you're idiots for treating criminals like humans and attempting this "rehabilitation" shit'.

Also I wondered what he thought he was doing there, because it seemed like he thought he was acting as a consultant, rather than being invited to observe and discuss cultural differences.

Alsoalso - possibly I am misremembering, but I thought it was weird that we saw no inmates other than footage of the one person who specifically asked to not be shown on camera. (weird not in the sense that we saw no inmates, but in the sense that the one person who asked not to be filmed ended up - in outline/silhouette and voice - being shown.) And I thought it was creepy and gross when Mister Attica skyped his pal and told him about the 'please don't show me on television' person and they had a jolly laugh about how that person wouldn't be taking any early morning walks for seven days if Mister Attica had been in charge.
posted by you must supply a verb at 9:57 AM on November 10, 2014 [2 favorites]


Seems pretty wrong they'd lock up honest cows in prison like that. They can't find any murderous cows to let the inmates play with?
posted by DynamiteToast at 10:29 AM on November 10, 2014


The full episode (subtitled into English) featuring the Georgia pastor who visits the Nordic Countries is now on YouTube.

From the introduction:

"But what we DO like is the church. We get married in the church, we baptize our children there, and we bury our parents there. We only ask the priest to tone down that whole Jesus thing, and then everything's hunky dory."

(his initial expression, about two minutes in, when the camera turns around and you see what he is looking at will make lovers of Swedish culture smile)
posted by Wordshore at 10:38 AM on November 10, 2014


Seems pretty wrong they'd lock up honest cows in prison like that. They can't find any murderous cows to let the inmates play with?

I thought the most interesting thing about the cows was how he totally missed the point of the cows. The nordic guys are saying "We have them take care of cows so they can learn empathy and have some sense of responsibility and relationship with something." and the US Warden goes off into "Yeah, that's great..make them work hard!" and then goes off on a rant about how the prisoners have no one to blame but themselves and how the prison system and the state own them nothing.

I was watching this and thinking "Maybe they should get that warden a cow! Maybe it would teach him a little empathy."
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 10:47 AM on November 10, 2014 [7 favorites]


I just watched the whole pastor episode. The pastor actually came off pretty well. He believes many things I don't, and I'm sure he's judging people in the sense that he thinks they're all going to hell, but he's not being undiplomatic. He's not unempathetic. And despite all their attempts at baiting him, he seems to take a pretty live-and-let-live attitude towards all the non-his-brand-of-Christian types.

But again, I would have liked to see them bring in someeone from a more mainline denomination and maybe a non-Bible-belt place. Wouldn't a liberal pastor from Seattle have more worthwhile, useful, views to share with Nordic religious folk than a fundamentalist from Georgia?
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 11:31 AM on November 10, 2014 [1 favorite]


It is true that you can be judged on things like "not taking full maternity/paternity leave", not keeping in shape, or odd political opinions, but all people are guilty of judging people who are "different", however that might represent.

It think it's clear but this is the point of my slightly glib comment. I'm sure there are things that both my country (the US) and Scandinavian countries do badly but the US in fact does a little better. I wouldn't be surprised if this were true of say the treatment of Muslim immigrants, though I don't really have any idea. But for examples like family leave and religion, you'll be equally judged here for doing the opposite. So of course I'm impressed by the existence of places where my minority values are actually the mainstream values. Without being necessarily anti-multicultural - people with different values of course should be encouraged to interact - I wish the world were set up in a way that made it easier for people to select to be ruled by people they actually agree with. Because you're going to be ruled by somebody.
posted by atoxyl at 11:57 AM on November 10, 2014 [1 favorite]


This whole LOLUSA thing is a xenophobic derail, the kind of thing introduced whenever the US is shown in a less than wonderful light ("how dare foreigners not admire the USA?").

I don't think a single person in this thread has used the LOLUSA thing to suggest that, though.

The Norden is pretty much using foreigners as a foil. In the prison episode, Conway's job is to stand around gape-jawed, almost as if he's an alien from outer space who's having correctional facilities explained to him for the first time. The juxtaposition presents Nordic culture as distinct from the outside world, while unified within itself (notice how the show doesn't distinguish between different countries' systems).

Which is interesting! But not particularly profound. The show, like a lot of reality television, is entertainment masquerading as documentary.

The fact is, if the show had done a deeper dive into specific differences between Nordic and American prisons—if, for instance, they had filmed American facilities, or gone over recidivism rates, or talked about overcrowding and prison abuse, or even discussed Attica's infamous riot—Conway, and the American system, would actually have come off in a much, much worse light.

Instead of looking like a stooge, Conway would have seemed like a monster.

Instead, Conway isn't even really in the show as an American, but as an Other. He's a space alien who ran a space jail, and he just doesn't get pretty basic, normal facts of life. Calling that out isn't saying, "How dare foreigners not admire the USA?" It's really just to say, "Huh, fascinating, they're doing that thing to us that we're guilty of doing to pretty much everybody else. Pass the popcorn."
posted by evidenceofabsence at 6:09 PM on November 10, 2014 [4 favorites]


> Which is interesting! But not particularly profound. The show, like a lot of reality television, is entertainment masquerading as documentary.

Yeah, I don't know if this show, though gratifying to watch if you admire the Nordic model, is especially insightful. The format reminds me of Wife Swap, if anything.
posted by EXISTENZ IS PAUSED at 8:11 AM on November 11, 2014


(Sorry, that wasn't meant as a diss. I enjoyed it a lot, and thanks to the Wordshore for posting it.)
posted by EXISTENZ IS PAUSED at 10:13 AM on November 11, 2014


"If you mean rural people, they're not [in the majority]."

I meant people living outside of the handful of very urban cities like New York City, Chicago, L.A., and San Francisco. Not just rural people! My use of the term "small towns" was misleading and incorrect, as I also had in mind medium-sized cities like Atlanta, Jacksonville, and Houston. You were correct to point this out.
posted by sudon't at 12:39 PM on November 11, 2014


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